Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Hey everyone, welcome back to the mailbag. Apologize in advance for pushing this thing up a day. Going to be out and about before kickoff tomorrow and didn’t want to run the risk of missing the mailbag entirely so doing this Wednesday instead of our typical Thursday. We’ll be here for the next hour but with the late change, I’ll check back throughout today and answer questions if you stop by after 3:30. Anyways, let’s get to it.

To your questions!

Alex Kuhn: Two questions:
1. If I had to boil this game down to one area that will determine victory, it’s the Steelers ability to shut down the Browns run game. Agree?
2. How do you see the Steelers stopping the run? More V Williams? Williams/Barron/Bush on the field at the same time?

Alex: Yes. 100% about stopping the Browns’ run game. Have an article going up in a few hours on the X Factor for this week that delves into that. We’ll talk about it too with our scouting report in the morning.

On paper, playing Vince more seems reasonable. But I don’t think it’ll be much different than last week. Snaps dominated by Barron (signal caller) and Bush. Bush is going to be really valuable on stopping their perimeter (outside zone and toss) runs. You want his speed. So Vince will probably play on 1st down and base snaps like most of the year.

Andrew Black: 


Wanted to pick your brain about Juju since you watch a lot of film. Is it more that we’re seeing he’s just not a true #1 WR who can create separation against top corners? Or is it more of bad play calls/Rudolph not seeing him when he’s open?

Alex: It’d be a lot easier if we could boil this thing down to one element, wouldn’t it? But it’s a combination of things. The attention he’s getting, his own struggles and drops, playcalling, Rudolph missing him (like I pointed out in my video this morning). It’s a whole host of factors. Still have a lot of confidence in JuJu though. He’s a great player.

Matt Manzo: 

Hey Alex!
What do you think is up with the Oline and their run blocking? Any reason that you can see for the decline, or inconsistencies?

Alex: Hey Matt! I would have to do a deep dive into that stuff. Alejandro Villanueva even admitted this is a line built for pass blocking, that’s the name of the game in today’s NFL, and it’s obvious when you see the talent. But with all the injuries at RB, so many new guys logging time, the line trying to adjust to their style, coaches trying to figure out what works best, and some poor blocking up front, there’s a lot of obstacles to overcome. Like I was talking about with JuJu above, it isn’t one thing when you talk about a unit-wide, consistent struggle. James Conner coming back will be a big boost though. Get him, get Foster, against a bottom five Browns’ run defense? Better be able to make hay on the ground this week.

MoreRingsThanYourTeam: As of today, who is on your top five defensive player of the year list? Also, what’s the rule for blocked field goals? If it hits the end zone, is it automatically a dead ball?

Alex: I don’t have a list. I don’t vote so I don’t spend too much time worrying about lists, ha. But TJ Watt, Minkah, they should at least be in the conversation. Stellar, stellar play.

Yes, I believe the rule is if it lands/rolls into the end zone, it’s a dead ball. Not 100% sure but believe that’s what happened two weeks ago versus the Colts. Just like how if the ball lands in the end zone on a kickoff, it’s a dead ball touchback.

CP72: Alex,
Do you think Vance McDonald might still be struggling with some injuries? He doesn’t look like the same player he was last year. He also had some bad body language on Sunday. Could he possibly be getting frustrated with his young quarterback?

Alex: Possible. You’re right, he doesn’t feel like the dude who smushed Chris Conte into the Earth last season. Saw some frustration from him but that might have been him being mad about his own struggles. Blocking hasn’t been very good and he dropped that crucial 3rd down pass that would’ve at least gotten the Steelers back into field goal range. He’s not maximizing his chances.

Beaver Falls Hosiery: Any opinion on why Eli Rogers has not gotten a call back in Pittsburgh? He returned punts, has more game at WR than Switz. Has there been a falling out or is it just drop off in capability (no other team has signed him to my knowledge).

Alex: I couldn’t tell you. I assume it’s the same reasons as to why they cut him in the first place. You’re right, he’s gotten some workouts, but never signed anywhere. Sometimes teams just move on.

Mr. Goodkat: 

How often are teams stacking the box against the O on running downs? I wasn’t really looking for it Sunday, but also didn’t notice it.

With the run game struggles would you bother putting any extra effort into stopping it if you were a DC?

Alex: I’d have to look at some of the analytics and charting that gets done. What I care about more is box count. If the Steelers go 22 personnel, of course there’s going to be eight in the box. But you should have enough big guys to block it. It matters more if you’re +1, -1, even, and what those numbers look like.

But obviously, with a young QB, a pass offense that isn’t super potent, teams want to have Rudolph beat them, not Conner.

Jamie Barnhart: Alex, it’s been statistically shown that Fichtner offenses are finishing games better than they’re starting them. What is your opinion on why that is?

Alex: I wish I knew. I’m sure Fichtner wishes he knew too. We documented the first possession woes all season long. Some of that stuff is fluky. JuJu dropping the ball against Indy. Pouncey’s bad snap against the Rams. Fichtner probably has to have a better script instead of feeling teams out and adjusting.

For whatever it’s worth, and I haven’t taken into account defensive TDs, the Steelers have scored 97 first half points this year. The second half? 96 points. So statistically, ends up being pretty even.

Ryan Fazi: 

Hey Alex

A lot of players have been getting touches this year. For the Thursday game against the browns who get’s a mystery touch this week.

Alex: Sure would be nice to see Johnny Holton catch his first pass. Gotta feel for the guy at this point. I’m not sure who the mystery man would be. Zach Gentry if he gets a hat? Tevin Jones if he gets called up (looks like he is)? We’ll see.


Yo Alex,

What role do you expect or prefer Sutton Smith to have with this team if he ever settles in?

Alex: The odds seem much more likely he’ll never have a role than worrying about what that role will be. He’s a fringe practice squad player clearly deemed expendable by the team time and time again. Most of the guys don’t ever carve out a role. Best shot for him is to earn a futures contract and get back into OTAs/training camp next year. And we’ll go from there as potential OLB depth if Chick/Bud are gone.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, can you think of any reason why the Steelers should continue to have Boswell boot it short and force a return on kickoffs? It seems to me with our terrible coverage unit that we’re getting bit in the a$$ more often than not on that maneuver. We’d be better off having Bos kick it out of the end zone. What’s your take on it?

Alex: I wish I knew. It’s frustrating to see. Coverage unit hasn’t been terrible but far from elite and I’d prefer the touchback. Not sure what their goal is here.

Danny Sanchez: 

Hey Alex!

In regards to the Artie Burns illegal touching penalty, is that a penalty that can be found after review? I was confused, I thought penalties had to be seen in real time?

Alex: That is a good question. I’m not sure what the rule is and my brief research isn’t helping me out very much. But apparently you can review that. I think the intent was to review if Burns went out of bounds so since that was the focus, and not who the ball hit (it was initially ruled as downed by Burns, not a turnover), they could make that call.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex. Why is this team so stubborn and refuse to call a QB sneak when the situation calls for it? Shotgun formations on the goal line? This team has a knack for making things harder than it needs to be. Why???

Alex: It would depend on the situation so hard for me to comment on anything specific. Obviously, I’ve said they should sneak it more than they do. But the issues on the goal line are less formation/stylistic issues as they are execution. Gotta be able to punch the ball in. This line is good enough to get a push.

That’s all for now but like I said, I’ll check back throughout the day/evening for anyone else who wants to add a question.

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